Are Minnesota’s Mega-Transportation Projects in Jeopardy Thanks to Trump?

St. Paul, MN – Republican President-elect Donald Trump chose the country’s Transportation Secretary Tuesday, picking Elaine Chao, the former labor secretary and wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

According to CNN Chao served as the deputy secretary of transportation under President George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1991, and as secretary of labor under President George W. Bush from 2001 through 2009, the longest tenure in the position since World War II.

Ms. Chao faces a number of challenges if confirmed by the Senate.  The Wall Street Journal reports that in addition to regulating self-driving cars, Chao would inherit a “landscape of record safety recalls in the automotive industry.”

Ms. Chao and the Republican-controlled Congress will also need to work with President-elect Trump to carry out his massive infrastructure plan. But what does this change of power mean for Minnesota?

Minnesota has several massive transportation projects in the works, most notably the Southwest Light Rail Transit (SWLRT) project, an estimated $1.858 billion project that has kept Minnesota’s elected officials in a political gridlock.  

The SWLRT project alone needs to secure $928.8 Million through the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) in 2017, but with Republicans running Washington, those funds could be at risk. According to NPR, Chao’s husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has said infrastructure is a low priority for the Republican-controlled Senate.

“We expect to secure the Full Funding Grant Agreement for the Southwest LRT project in summer 2017;” said Kate Brickman, Communications Director for the Metropolitan Council, “we have no reason to think otherwise.”

Trump’s infrastructure plan heavily hits on transportation, but most of the focus is on roads, bridges, water, and providing maximum flexibility to the states. After Election Day Republicans hold the majority in the Minnesota House and Senate. Minnesota Republicans have adamantly spoken out against funding the SWLRT project.  

Met Council projects requiring federal funds could also be in jeopardy due to Trump’s stance on sanctuary cities. Early in September Trump vowed to dismantle sanctuary cities, saying “Block funding for sanctuary cities … no more funding. We will end the sanctuary cities that have resulted in so many needless deaths,” Trump said, “Cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars, and we will work with Congress to pass legislation to protect those jurisdictions that do assist federal authorities.”  With both of the Twin Cities considered sanctuary cities, their access to federal tax dollars could be cut off.

“Obviously, Trump’s enthusiasm for infrastructure is likely to benefit road building throughout Minnesota, but whether Minneapolis loses transportation funds due to its sanctuary status is a wild card;” says Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson. “Similarly, I don’t think anyone knows whether he includes LRT or commuter rail in his definition of infrastructure. I sure hope not” Johnson says.

President-elect Trump still has several cabinet positions to fill, including the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, which Minnesotan and Fox News Contributor Pete Hegseth is currently on the short-list for.

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